With ‘period’ BTCC names such as Steve Soper, Robb Gravett and Patrick Watts on the entry list – and featuring strongly in the action – and with genuine ex-works cars finishing 1,2,3 in each race, there was a real ‘time warp’ feel to the season opener for a series that’s definitely going from strength to strength.
As the grid made its rolling start for the first race, the noise from the engines – particularly the V12 of Chris Scragg’s XJ12C, back in action after a trouble-filled 2013 – rumbled through the seats in the grandstand, raising a broad smile from the crowd who were basking in the unusually hot spring sunshine.
Pole sitter Chris Ward was first away in the JD Classics-prepared Jaguar XJS Group 44 he was sharing with Gary Pearson, and which had been dominant in qualifying, with Steve Soper hard at his heels in another JD Classics vehicle – the Ford Cologne Capri.
When the cars came round to the Wheatcroft Straight at the end of the first lap, however it was Soper at the head of the pack, with the Group 44 car nowhere to be seen. It hadn’t turned a wheel since 1979, and was making its return to racing at Donington Park, but power steering failure on the opening lap took it into the pits. It would emerge from there in last place, and storm through the field up into 4th before having to retire just two laps from the end and sit it out for the rest of the weekend, but not before it had delivered a performance which bodes well for the rest of the season.
There were no such dramas for the Soper/John Young Capri. Soper drew out a commanding lead, which Young maintained after a slick driver change, taking the chequered flag almost a lap ahead of Patrick Watts’ Computervision MG Metro Turbo, which Nick Swift brought home 51s ahead of the mighty Broadspeed XJ12C of Chris Scragg. Watts was delighted with this giant-killing result, commenting: “The oil temperature climbed a bit, but we beat the big boys, which is what it’s all about.”
Other notable performances included Dave Thomas, bringing his Capri home in 8th spot just two seconds behind the Capri of Ratcliff and Dawson. And Richard Postins’ ex-works Rover TWR Vitesse proved that emerging from restoration only a couple of weeks ago was no barrier to finishing 5th in its first race in decades – a performance it would go on to better in race two.
In the second race, the Soper/Young Capri didn’t fare so well. Soper pulled in at the start with a vibration that eventually caused him to retire. This left the Watts/Swift Metro setting off in pole position, but Nick Swift took Redgate sideways on lap one, allowing Chris Scragg to steer the XJ12C into the lead that it would hold for the rest of the race.
The TWR JXS of John Young/Andrew Smith looked set to take second place, until a long pit stop caused by a technical problem dropped it down the field to fourth. Richard Postins – again on a solo drive in his Rover TWR Vitesse – benefitted, coming in 2nd with a stunning drive that gave him a podium finish, while that giant-killing MG Metro Turbo of Watts/Swift followed in 3rd. The TWR XJS of Young/Smith finished 4th, with Dave Thomas rewarded for a fine drive in his Capri with 5th place.
It was terrific to see the original Group 2 Rover P6 of Giles and Strachan complete race 2, the little car bringing yet another highly authentic piece of Touring Car history to the grid. And the Robinson/Gravett Triumph Dolomite Sprint delivered the best performance from the three ‘Dollies’ out on the track, finishing in 7th in race two, two places up on their 9th in race one.
Class wins went to: Dave Thomas’ Capri; Richard Postins’ Rover; Patrick Watts & Nick Swift’s MG Metro Turbo; Anthony Robinson & Robb Gravett’s Triumph Dolomite and Chris Scragg’s Jaguar.
If the season opener is anything to go by, 2014 should prove highly entertaining.